It was Douglas Adams who commented that he liked deadlines, particularly the whooshing noise they made as they go by. The problem is, if it was a customer who set you your deadline you should be doing everything to ensure you don’t hear that whooshing sound … if you want to work for them again.
According to the OED, the word ‘deadline’ originates from a physical line drawn in the ground around a prison. If prisoners stepped over it they would be deemed as escaping and shot. It was literally a line that you died by, if you crossed it.
Deadlines are all around us. They can be self-imposed deadlines (those of you who’ve set yourselves a deadline of achieving something by the end of 2013 don’t have long left), or they can be set by third parties. Some projects have several deadlines through their life: books have a deadline for the supply of the finished manuscript, there’s a deadline for proofreading the page layout proofs, and then the ultimate deadline of a publication date to adhere to.
If you have any input into a deadline (and a deadline is best negotiated if possible) think about how long it will take you to do the job … and then add on another 20%! Don’t do what I did once when an editor asked me on a Wednesday if I had time to do a commission for him - I told him I was going away on the Saturday for a week and I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem, to which he replied, “Of course not, I need it by this Friday!” (Walked into that one, didn’t I?)
If ever you think you may have a problem meeting a deadline then get in touch with the editor at the earliest opportunity. The sooner you do this the more chance there is of adjusting it in some way. Leave it until the last minute and you’ll leave the editor with little room for manoeuvre. If you can, give the editor something by the initial deadline date. Deadlines are set because there’s a process that takes place after you, the writer, has done their bit. If you can give the editor something so they can, at least, start doing their bit, the better.
Of course, the best situation is to deliver before the deadline, and every time you do that you increase your chances of working with that editor again. Reliability is key.
Being a writer is all about juggling deadlines. Unfortunately for non-writers, this can be frustrating. I still have much to do in preparation for Christmas Day, but the writer in me is concentrating my efforts on the deadlines that are due to arrive before then!